Tue, Feb 17, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Fraud not enough to call new vote: official

AP , BAGHDAD

Shiite pilgrims beat their chests as they shout religious slogans outside the tomb of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, in the holy city of Karbala in southern Iraq on Sunday.

PHOTO: EPA

Iraqi officials acknowledged on Sunday that there was some fraud in last month’s provincial elections but not enough to force a new vote in any province.

Faraj al-Haidari, chairman of the election commission, said final results of the Jan. 31 voting would be certified and announced this week. Voters chose members of ruling provincial councils in an election seen as a dress rehearsal for parliamentary balloting by the end of the year.

The US hailed the absence of major violence during the elections, expressing hope they would help cement security gains of the past year.

Despite the drop in violence, a US soldier was killed on Sunday by a roadside bomb in southern Iraq, the US announced.

At least three other people were killed by attacks on Sunday in other parts of the country, police said.

Preliminary election results from last month’s balloting were announced on Feb. 5 and showed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s ticket swept to victory over Shiite religious parties in Baghdad and southern Iraq — a strong endorsement of his security efforts.

Al-Haidari said that ballots in more than 30 polling stations nationwide were nullified because of fraud but that was not enough to declare the election a failure.

He gave no further details. But one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not supposed to talk about the vote to media, said the most widespread fraud appeared to have occurred in Diyala province, which has large Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish communities and an ongoing insurgency.

A coalition including the Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest Sunni political group, led in Diyala with 21.1 percent of the vote, followed by a Kurdish alliance with 17.2 percent, preliminary results showed.

Al-Maliki’s coalition finished fourth in Diyala with 9.5 percent.

US officials have been closely watching the Diyala results for signs of friction between Arabs and Kurds, who are the biggest community in the far north of the province.

The Kurds were hoping that a strong Kurdish showing in those areas would bolster their case for incorporating parts of the province into the Kurdish self-ruled region.

In the south, al-Maliki’s Dawa party and its coalition allies prevailed over their main Shiite rival, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which has close links to Iran.

That victory was partly driven by public backlash against what many Iraqis see as undue Iranian influence in their country.

Major General Abdul-Karim Khalaf, spokesman for the interior ministry, announced on Sunday a ban against non-Arabic signs in the country’s holy cities, saying the measure was intended to counter ones appearing in Farsi, the language spoken in Iran.

“Due to our Constitution, the formal language in Iraq is Arabic as well as Kurdish,” Khalaf said in the Shiite holy city of Karbala. “Therefore, the use of another language defames the faces of the holy cities.”

Signs at stores in Shiite holy cities are sometimes written in Farsi as well as Arabic to attract business from the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who visit each year from Iran.

Hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims converged on Karbala in recent days to celebrate the end of 40 days of mourning that follow the anniversary of the 7th century death of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Hussein, one of Shiite Islam’s most revered saints.

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